'What we did to Alan Turing is terrible' - Gwydion Rhys and the cast of To Kill A Machine

To Kill a Machine by Catrin Fflur Huws tackles the life and times of Alan Turing. Jack Lawson sat down with Gwydion Rhys (Alan Turing), Rick Yale (the Betray), François Pandolfo (the Friend), and Robert Harper (the Interrogator) to discuss Machine's heavy contextual references and their characters' humanity, or lack thereof.

During the play there isn’t a moment where we say, in 2015, everybody gets this now. It’s still happening. People are still being persecuted for being who they are.

During World War II Turing was pivotal in cracking coded German messages. Due to his efforts, the Allies were able to respond quickly to Nazi aggression and win several key engagements. But in 1957 Turing was convicted of homosexual relations, and forced to undergo chemical castration. A posthumous apology was issued by the British Government in 2009 due to an internet campaign, but it took until 2013 for Turing to receive a full pardon.

One of the things that Turing himself questions during the play is whether society can really judge people who exist outside of society’s programmed behaviour… Do you see Society as a Turing Machine which hit its version of a ‘halt’ command with Alan Turing’s conviction?

Rick Yale: Within heteronormative society it does take people to stand up against it and, in this case, die to change things.

Gwydion Rhys: For me playing Alan it’s really liberating to be able to touch upon how he was. But it doesn’t feel like when I’m playing him that I’m rejecting the questions or allegations which are given to him because it feels like he didn’t believe it was wrong at the time.

For us, it’s easy to look back on these moments and think they were quite humorous. You can’t really understand how maybe a judge, or a police officer – in our case in To Kill a Machine – could ask such questions to a person and not understand his answers.

[Turing] answered all the questions that were given to him it feels without any filter. And that’s how he should be…but it showed that he was ahead of his time on the work front. Society wasn’t ready for him, society wasn’t ready for his ideas and the way he portrayed himself.

He lost his life in a way and fifty, sixty years on now it’s caused society to look back and to rethink how it deals with such situations.

François Pandolfo: I’m always really lost on this subject because it’s about the collective, isn’t it? It’s easy for us to look back in time after years and years have gone by, like with Operation Yewtree. People that we really highly respect in the public eye are talking of that time and saying, ‘well, yeah. We all knew it was going on but it was kind of the general consensus so we all went along with it and it didn’t feel the wrong thing to do.’

What we did to Alan Turing is terrible. I can imagine probably at the time, to the collective, to society, it didn’t stand out that much.

This is going to sound really abstract, but I don’t know who in our play the machine actually is.

Is it society, or is it Alan? I still don’t know the answer to that question.

Robert Harper: That’s the thing that we’re kind of posing with it, isn’t it? The machine and the structure of the play, and the setting and the scenery creates this dual machine. This dual situation where society breaks Alan, and Alan being broken. Are we breaking a man down to be a machine who has no consciousness anymore and cannot think? Or are we building and breaking a machine? It’s confusing, and I’m sure what I’m saying now is probably confusing.

This idea of him building this machine and his life, his sexuality, his refusal to lie, to accept that he should change for society – I don’t see how anyone can look at it and not think that it’s wrong. During the play there isn’t a moment where we say, in 2015, everybody gets this now. It’s still happening. People are still being persecuted for being who they are.

Although the play is talking about one person’s life and what’s happening to him, it’s really about everybody.

One of the things that you mentioned is the central set, the tree of life which is made out of machinery. Is it possible that there really aren’t any necessarily human or machine characters in the play?

Rick: I think yeah. All of our characters are a take on this hybrid. Especially in the quiz show moments we have those macabre gameshow-esq characters that are almost like robots. They’re acting on just pure greed or basic emotions. They don’t really think like humans do, or act the way humans do.

Like in the joke scene where we tell these awfully homophobic jokes, and laugh while the audience just sits in complete silence.

Robert: In a way those two characters that we play create this gameshow, which is the outer fabric of the play which allows the scenes of Alan’s life to happen. We are ourselves playing these characters which were programmed by the secret service to destroy. We are going to kill the machine. That’s our job.

While at the same time we’re playing these little quiz show moments saying, ‘well what are we going to do? Who’s programming the machine? Does a man lie? Does a machine lie?’ But we are [still] those programmed elements of it.

What happens to Turing is inevitable and, as you were saying earlier Rick, we’re just cogs the have been put into that machine. That hybridization of actual organic life, the elements on stage, and what we know it to have been.

Gwydion: It’s still confusing to this day trying to understand Turing’s ideas… I think that it’s still a nice dilemma to have – to question the audience. What do the audience see in the characters? Who do they think is most human? I think that the characters Alan stumbles upon – his family, his friends – probably those people see him as someone who doesn’t fit in or understand society and that he’s slightly less human.

But I feel, personally, that by the end of the play he’s surrounded by machines. He’s the most human person there. He’s ahead of his time.

Everybody thinks he’s got this machine like mind, but being able to answer questions without putting a filter on it or being afraid of the consequences – that for me is more human.

To Kill A Machine plays at Zoo every day at 20:55 until the end of August: http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/to-kill-a-machine/708300

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